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Leonid Bershidsky

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Looks Like a Winner. But Is He a Leader?

He stands to gain near-dictatorial powers, but there’s no knowing what he’ll do with them once out of campaign mode.

Fired up!

Fired up!

Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s party, Servant of the People, is set to win Sunday’s parliamentary election, gaining a near-majority that would hand the novice president more power than his predecessor enjoyed. What Zelenskiy is going to do with it is largely still a mystery.

Ukraine’s constitution places the responsibility for forming the cabinet in the parliament’s hands. This means Zelenskiy, elected in April on promises of draining the political and bureaucratic swamp, has had his hands tied so far: The outgoing parliament, which he dismissed soon after taking office in May in order to hold an early election, has been hostile to him. (Because Servant of the People was registered only last year, it had no sitting members of the legislative body.) Zelenskiy, for example, got into a public row with Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who failed to consult him as he continued former President Petro Poroshenko’s rigid, unproductive line in the matter of freeing 24 Ukrainian sailors held captive in Russia. The president has been unable to get the parliament to dismiss Klimkin.